Clemens needs Plan 'B' for Cooperstown

Roger Clemens wants to be a Yankee in the Hall of Fame. But to be historically correct, he's Boston blue-blood.

Originally Published: May 23, 2003
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

So Roger Clemens says he wants a Yankees cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, huh?

Well, at least he didn't say he wanted a Nike cap, a Katy (Texas) Golf & Country Club cap or a "This Space Available" cap.

Clemens

Clemens

We know the people at the Hall of Fame really appreciate Roger's input on this. And we know his favorite employer, George Steinbrenner, appreciates it even more. But if Clemens thinks he's going to get his way on this one, we sure do wish him luck.

"We're a history museum," said Jeff Idelson, vice president of communications and education for the Hall of Fame. "So the logo on a player's cap is important to us from a historical-representation standpoint. We want the logo to be emblematic of where this player made his most indelible mark."

So where did Roger Clemens make his most indelible mark? Sorry, friends. Toronto, Ontario, and Austin, Texas, are not on the ballot. We all know the answer to that question, don't we? Even Clemens undoubtedly knows the answer.

It just isn't the answer he prefers -- because it happens to be a town in New England where he didn't exactly ride off on a parade float.

Oh, we'll grant that Clemens made a visible mark for himself as a Yankee. He has won two World Series and one Cy Young Award as a Yankee. Eventually, he'll also be wearing a Yankees cap when he joins the 300-Win Club and 4,000-Strikeout Club.

But did he make his most indelible mark as a Yankee? Be serious, will ya?

In Boston, Clemens is the all-time franchise leader in wins (tied with Cy Young), innings, strikeouts, shutouts, starts and double-figure strikeout games. He led the Red Sox in wins in more seasons (eight) than Ted Williams led the Red Sox in RBI (six).

On the other hand, he has led the Yankees in wins once -- or fewer times than Fritz Peterson. He's 33rd on the Yankees' all-time wins list, with 66 -- or fewer than Jack Warhop, Tiny Bonham and George Pipgras.

If you make the wrong decision, it would be like walking into the Hall now and seeing Ty Cobb in a Philadelphia A's cap ... or Babe Ruth in a Brooklyn Dodgers cap.
Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame official

True, Clemens will be just the second pitcher to win his 300th game as a Yankee. But the other was Phil Niekro -- and we're obliged to report that he didn't go into the Hall of Fame with an "NY" on his plaque. So if the magic words are, "indelible mark," it's hard to think there could be any letter on Clemens' Hall of Fame cap besides a "B."

"What we don't want to end up with," Idelson said, "is a decision that doesn't make sense 50 years from now when someone walks into the Hall of Fame. Fifty years from now, the logo on the cap will have to represent where the player made his most indelible mark. If you make the wrong decision, it would be like walking into the Hall now and seeing Ty Cobb in a Philadelphia A's cap ... or Babe Ruth in a Brooklyn Dodgers cap."

So what constitutes the "right decision?" If history is any guide, Clemens won't want to read this history book.

We found 15 current franchises that have their all-time leading winner in the Hall of Fame. Only two aren't in there wearing that team's cap. One is Eddie Plank (Athletics), who went with the incognito no-logo look. The other, by a truly remarkable coincidence, is the pitcher tied with Clemens for most Red Sox wins -- Cy Young.

We're sure many people from Pawtucket to Orono are still bitter that Young headed into the hall wearing his Cleveland Naps cap instead of his Red Sox cap. But this is a different situation than Clemens' -- because Young actually won more games with the Naps (241) than he did for the Red Sox (191). So it ain't personal. It's pure mathematics.

At least the Hall is always willing to "take the player's views into account," Idelson said. So if Clemens knows any good speech writers, we suggest he hire one.

The Hall also carefully considers where a player won his awards, his contributions to each team he played for, and which teams he played for in the postseason. So obviously, Clemens' New York and Boston years will both be perused.

But whatever they decide, there's another factor to be considered here, too. Namely: WHO CARES?

It isn't as if the plaque will ignore the teams that aren't on Clemens' cap. Don Sutton pitched for five teams, and they're all in there. Eddie Murray's plaque will mention his glorious Mets years -- and even his not-so-glorious 160-at-bat Angels cameo.

In fact, Idelson said, "I'm willing to bet that if I gave you a list of 10 guys in the Hall, you probably couldn't even tell me what logo is on their cap."

Hey, try this game at home. Here are a few: Hoyt Wilhelm, Lefty Grove, Rod Carew, or even Nolan Ryan. Who knows? Who really cares?

Of course, maybe Clemens is different, because he's so tangled up in the great Red Sox-Yankees passions of his time. So this is clearly important to him, important to Steinbrenner, important to all those New Englanders with a lifelong Yankees inferiority complex. But does any New Yorker care that Gary Carter won't enter the Hall with a Mets cap on his plaque? We sure haven't met any.

"The bottom line," Idelson said, "is, we're a history museum. So we have to do what's historically correct."

And to determine what's historically correct here, they won't have to hire Doris Kearns Goodwin as a consultant. For no charge whatsoever, we'll be happy to inform Clemens he's going down in history as a Bostonian. Just like Yaz, the Kennedys and Commissioner Gammons. So we suggest he pop a cold Sam Adams and accept his fate.

Miscellaneous Rumblings

  • If there's anyone out there who can remember a book influencing a pennant race, let us know. But in the meantime, one of Billy Beane's best friends is almost amused to hear people speculating that "Moneyball" is going to make other GMs unwilling to make a deal with the A's.

    Billy Beane
    When it comes to potential trades, Billy Beane has the goods.

    "I think Billy will have no problems making trades," said his one-time assistant, Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi, "because if people will just look around, they'll see he's given up quality players in a lot of his deals. Just look at some of the prospects he's given up -- Jeremy Bonderman, Miguel Olivo, Jeff DaVanon, Angel Berroa, Jesus Colome, Franklyn German, Carlos Pena. That's seven guys who are playing in the big leagues right now."

    There are insinuations in "Moneyball" that Beane has fast-talked his way into deals that turned out to be steals for Oakland. But Ricciardi, who was Beane's assistant for four years, said: "I never once heard Billy Beane say, `We just screwed that club.' In fact, the thing we always said there was, `We don't care what we're giving up if we're getting what we want.' "

    And that, in the end, is what drives all deals. If a team is getting something it wants out of a deal, why would it care who the GM is?

    "The one thing Billy does," said another club official, "is talk up his players. He does it all the time. But that's what he's supposed to do. You just have to realize it. It ain't that complicated."

    "Hey, I'd still trade with him," Ricciardi laughs, "because Billy is one guy who I know isn't afraid to give me what I want in a deal if I give up what he wants."

  • The Yankees' bullpen ERA finally crept under 5.00 (to 4.97) this week. But that's still an unacceptable number for a team and a manager accustomed to much better (such as the 3.64 and 3.38 bullpen ERAs of the previous two years).

    So have the Yankees started poking around to see what might be out there? Absolutely. And all sorts of fascinating names have started to appear on the New York rumor circuit -- Ugueth Urbina, Kelvim Escobar, Jason Grimsley, Gabe White, even Armando Benitez.

    But according to clubs that have spoken with the Yankees, GM Brian Cashman isn't being allowed by a certain boss in Tampa to do anything more than talk right now, for a very un-Yankee-like reason: $$$$$$$$$$$.

    With his payroll already in luxury-tax confines, George Steinbrenner is still forbidding his baseball people to add any payroll. So unless somebody wants to take Sterling Hitchcock, all the Yankees can do for now is talk, tread water and hope Jose Contreras starts to get a few outs.

    Of course, if the Red Sox should pass the Yankees in the standings for 15 minutes, you could see a new Steinbrenner policy erupt at any moment.

  • Oh. And one more problem the Yankees will have making deals this year: Other clubs don't like their prospects much.

    Rivera
    Rivera

    Their best trading chip, outfielder Juan Rivera, now has to play every day until Bernie Williams returns in July. And beyond him, their system is really depleted in the upper levels, thanks to all the deals of recent years.

    "We're hearing Marcus Thames' name, but to me, he's just an OK prospect," one front-office man said. "And I'm not even sold on Rivera, to be honest."

    Of their other prospects in Triple-A, Erick Almonte is hurt, Drew Henson is a disappointment, Brandon Claussen is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and nobody else is regarded as anything special.

  • No team in the history of division play has blown a six-game lead entering May as fast as the Royals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But if the Royals continue to tumble out of the race, it could actually be a good thing -- in at least one way.

    Because if they wind up trading Carlos Beltran while they're in contention, it could be a public-relations nightmare in Kansas City.

    "I think we've been very upfront and very direct with our community in terms of telling them what we've tried to do, what we can't do and what we have to do at some point," Royals GM Allard Baird said. "So I think (if they deal Beltran), some people will have to understand that. But some will not understand it. And I know that."

    Still, what Baird understands, with no room for interpretation, is that he is under orders from owner David Glass to reduce his payroll by several million bucks. So Beltran almost certainly will be cost-cutting measure No. 1.

    We've seen teams in recent years -- Oakland in particular -- trade away big-name players at the deadline without surrendering its chance to win. But it's hard to envision any scenario where the Royals could trade Beltran and not have a significant dropoff in lineup quality -- "unless we were taking on money," Baird said. "And that's not going to be the case."

    On the other hand, Baird reiterates that he won't take "five or six A-ball players" for Beltran, either. So his options in July shouldn't look much different from his options last winter or this spring. The Orioles, Dodgers, Padres, Mets and Rangers all figure to get right back in line.

    Pitchers ahead of hitters
    Roney
    Roney

    One school of thought on the Tigers is that at least they were willing to dump veterans and sacrifice the present so they could create vacancies for their young players. But scouts who have been following them haven't seen a blueprint for the future, except on the mound.

    "They do have some good young arms," one scout said. "You have to like Bonderman, and they did a good job with their Rule 5 picks. Both (Matt) Roney and (Wilfredo) Ledezma should be in their rotation at some point. But the idea is to try and get your young arms and your young position players to mesh at the same time. And I just don't see the position players.

    "I'm not ready to project (Eric) Munson as a good player on a championship team. And I'm sure even they would rank (Carlos) Pena ahead of him in terms of what they're expecting. But except for one (three-homer) game, I think it's safe to say he's been disappointing."

    Of course, in defense of both Munson and Pena, it's hard to evaluate anybody in the midst of a season like this.

  • With Tyler Houston out for up to eight weeks with a broken finger, the Phillies are exploring bench help. But the names that have floated publicly so far -- such as Dave Hansen and John Vander Wal -- don't fit as short-term solutions. The Phillies are actually more interested in quadruple-A types. And executives of two teams that have spoken with them say they made a run this week at Texas' Mike Lamb, but backed off when the Rangers' asking price was too steep.

  • Meanwhile, there are no indications the Phillies are unhappy enough with rookie center fielder Marlon Byrd's progress that they're ready to farm him out. But they're also trying to win. So they undoubtedly won't sit back and allow Byrd to hit .191 all year, for his sake or theirs. They've already mulled all sorts of options down the road, from moving Bobby Abreu to center, to a Ricky Ledee-Jason Michaels platoon, to trying to deal for a center fielder.

    As well as Kenny Lofton is playing in Pittsburgh, it's worth noting that Charlie Manuel is a Lofton fan -- and now an assistant to the GM in Philadelphia. The Phillies weren't as interested in Lofton this spring as they were made out to be. But it isn't out of the question that that could change down the road.

  • One of the plot lines dancing below the radar screen when last summer's labor deal was struck was mid-market owners looking for a system that would bump up their franchise values. Now it's time to start paying attention on that front, because various ownership sources say at least a half-dozen teams are now for sale -- or could be in the near future.

    The Twins, A's and Expos have been available for months. The Dodgers and Braves are now actively being shopped. There is talk the Blue Jays could be had for the right price. Occasional rumblings surface about Drayton McLane selling the Astros. And the rumors about Peter Angelos selling the Orioles just won't die.

    So what are we to make of Disney unloading the Angels to Arte Moreno for a loss? It may look like great ammunition for Bud Selig's We're Going Broke Chorus. But one ownership source says there's no difference between this sale and the closing of a bunch of Disney Stores. It's just one company's corporate strategy.

    "They just wanted to get out," the source said. "It's a bad economy. There are a lot of teams on the market. Disney needed the cash. So they took their loss and got out. There's no big implication other than that."

    Maybe the best development in the Angels sale is that a club finally was bought by an individual who genuinely seems to care about baseball, after a long succession of franchise sales to corporations and conglomerates.

    Lee
    Lee

  • The further the Marlins fall behind the Mets, let alone the Braves, the closer they get to shopping their two most attractive bats, Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee. Since their three best hitting prospects -- third baseman Miguel Cabrera and first basemen Jason Stokes and Adrian Gonzalez -- can fill those holes at the corners, we surveyed scouts on how close those three are to being ready.

    CABRERA: "Was a shortstop. Just outgrew the position. Very good defensively. Makes spectacular plays, then at times doesn't make the routine play. But getting better. Good swing. A little long. Developed a great baseball body. Tremendous athlete. On a roll right now (in Double-A)."

    STOKES: "Big-time power, but might run into some trouble at the upper levels. Still trying to pull everything. So far, so good at Double-A. But if he gets to Triple-A or the big leagues and stays this pull-conscious, it will catch up with him."

    GONZALEZ: "Stokes puts up the power numbers, but Gonzalez should be a better pure hitter. You hear comparisons to Palmeiro, but he won't be that type of power hitter. More like an Olerud. ... Really struggling right now. Swinging like he's hurt. Used to be up near the plate. Then he had the wrist surgery (last winter). Now he's way off the plate and not swinging hard. Looks like he doesn't want to be jammed. Sure isn't ready right now."

  • One reason Freddy Garcia continues to exasperate the Mariners is that his stuff is still good. "He's jumping at the hitter and slinging more than he normally does," said one AL scout. "But his velocity is still there and his stuff is still good. He's just throwing everything right down the chute." So how have the Mariners managed to stay in first place with their "ace" so mediocre (3-6, 5.97)? "Because of Gil Meche," the same scout said. "They expected Freddy to be their No. 1 and Meche to be their No. 5 -- and it's reversed."

  • In six seasons together in Colorado, the Rockies have never gone through a month in which both Todd Helton and Larry Walker went homerless. But they're both trotless in May, with a week left in the month.

    Walker
    Walker

    Walker got a cortisone shot in his shoulder, which might explain his troubles (.191, 0 HR, 6 RBI through Thursday). But one scout said: "I was shocked by how long his swing has gotten. I think he might need to concede something to age and shorten his swing. They've just been pounding him inside."

    Helton, on the other hand, has been getting his hits (.292), but only 20 of his first 24 hits this month were singles. "Lately, he's made a conscious effort to stay on the ball better," the same scout said. "So he's gotten some hits to left and left-center, but he still hasn't hit for any power." Two years ago, this guy got 100 extra-base hits. This year he's on pace for 72. "So I guess," the scout chuckled, "you have to downgrade him from `impact player' to `All-Star.' "

  • "Disaster" might be too strong a word to describe John Rocker's week in the big leagues with Tampa Bay. But it's close. Rocker faced eight hitters, and six reached base -- on three walks, a hit batter and two hits. And after the reception Rocker got from the paying customers, all these years later in his personal post-SI-story era, you have to wonder if this guy will ever spend another normal moment, in or out of uniform.

    "It's like the villain walking into the wrestling ring," Lou Piniella told the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin. "The Masked Marauder."

    But if Rocker is ever going to make it in baseball, he is at least going to need to ignore all that -- if not learn to feed off it. And Piniella said he wouldn't accept all that negativity as an explanation for Rocker's lack of success.

    "He should be used to it by now," Piniella said. And if he isn't, how can anyone expect he ever will?

  • It's clear that Kenny Williams prefers not to fire his manager, Jerry Manuel. It's also clear that his owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, prefers not to pay managers who aren't managing. But Gary Ward was the eighth coach dismissed by the White Sox under Manuel's tenure. So after a while, it also becomes clear to everyone who follows this team that the performance of the White Sox hasn't matched the talent for a long time now.

    "The more I see of them, the more I just think they need a (managerial) change," one AL scout said. "Jerry is just too laid back. They need somebody who can come in and take charge. If they wait much longer, it will be too late. Unless something changes, the Twins will win this division by 12 games."

  • Finally, you hear lots of talk about Roger Clemens and his legendary workout program. So it tells you something that one thing you almost never hear about is anybody emulating it.

    "In '99, I decided to try his spring-training program," Curt Schilling said. "I even talked to his strength coach about it, and I was going to try it. If you ever watch him in spring training, you'll see him run out to the bullpen even on days he pitches ... and burn himself out. The idea is to get himself used to the demands of the season by getting himself tired, because you pitch tired so much during the year.

    "So I said, `Hey, that's a great idea. I'm going to do that.' Then I gave up 7 runs in 1 1/3 innings, and I said, `I can't do this. No way.' So I gave up -- after one day. That's why this guy is still doing what he's doing at 40 years old."

    Triviality answer
    Question: Roger Clemens is one of eight active right-handed pitchers (with at least 125 decisions) who have a .600 career winning percentage or better. Can you name the other seven?

    Answer: David Cone, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood and Kevin Brown. (Sorry, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz are good guesses but just miss. And Matt Morris, Tim Hudson and Russ Ortiz don't have enough decisions.)

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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